House Democrats Willing to Pursue GOP Surveillance Abuse Claims

(Bloomberg) -- Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee say they’re willing to look into potential abuses by the Justice Department and FBI in obtaining approval for sensitive surveillance under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

The acquiescence to a limited exploration of the topic was disclosed in the release Tuesday of a transcript from the committee’s first meeting, held behind closed doors last week. When Republicans controlled the committee last year, they contended that bias against Donald Trump led some Justice Department officials to abuse surveillance authority.

Representative Jim Himes, a Connecticut Democrat who heads the cybersecurity subcommittee, said Republicans and Democrats should work together in “getting to the bottom" of whether there might have been some abuse of the process under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

“It has borders, though,” Himes said, according to the transcript. “I am not sure there is anything any of us can do, if the president honestly believes, as he tweeted, that the Obama administration eavesdropped on his campaign. I am not sure we are going to change that sentiment."

Republican Chris Stewart of Utah said support for continuing some surveillance programs, such as the gathering of telephone call “metadata,” could erode if members of his party believe there was no accountability for surveillance abuses.

On the other hand, Democrats defeated a Republican motion to immediately subpoena about a dozen potential witnesses, from former FBI Director James Comey to Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.

It was a reversal from the debate last week in the House Judiciary Committee, where Republicans denounced Democrats for voting to authorize a subpoena of Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker rather than waiting to see if he’d answer questions voluntarily.

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